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From The Lounge

March Sadness

Posted: Apr 1, 2014 12:00am ET
By Michael Kaplan

If you thought Warren Buffett was a stone-cold madman for putting up a billion-dollar free-roll to anyone who could complete a perfect March Madness bracket, well, it's time to reassess the Oracle of Omaha's sanity. That irresistible offer brought Buffett and the venture's sponsors, Quicken Loans Inc. and Yahoo Sports, boatloads of publicity with virtually no risk. Just about everyone washed out on making it through the first two rounds of the NCAA finals.

However, there was one exception: Brad Binder, a misbegotten soul who went into week-two of the tournament with a perfect Yahoo bracket—but somehow failed to enter the contest put on by Buffett. As Jay Farber, second-place finisher in the World Series of Poker, put it: "So this kid has the potential to miss out on a billion dollars? I might off myself."

Farber's life is safe from his own hand. Binder failed as miserably as the rest of us on the Round of 32 (specifically, game 37, after Dayton beat Syracuse by two points). He's out of the running for a perfect bracket—as the math dictates he should be. According to oddsmaker RJ Bell, founder of Pregame.com, assuming that the remaining games after the first weekend would all be even money, the chance for a perfect bracket spiked to 102 trillion to 1.

While each game is clearly its own event, the likelihood of flawlessly picking teams grows increasingly distant as March Madness progresses. "Odds of getting the first day perfect were 284 to 1," says Bell, laying out a long shot that is far from astronomical. "Getting the first two days perfect was 815,000 to 1. It literally increases exponentially." The unfortunate Binder might have been better off using his run of good luck on a lottery ticket or getting struck by lightning, which is only a 3,000 to 1 shot.


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